A legal loophole approved in October 2011 allows for National Security Agency analysts to access the emails and phone call records of U.S. citizens.
An NSA analyst can use “certain United States persons names,” phone numbers, email addresses or other identifying bits of metadata to check for matches contained in various NSA databases, the Guardian reports.
According to the NSA, a U.S. person, as defined by federal law and executive order is: “a citizen of the United States; an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence;an unincorporated association with a substantial number of members who are citizens of the U.S. or are aliens lawfully admitted for permanent residence; or a corporation that is incorporated in the U.S.”
According to the new document published by the Guardian, an NSA analyst was not allowed to query the information of a United States person “until an effective oversight process” had been developed by the agency and and agreed to by the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
The latest revelations provided to the Guardian by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden come despite repeated denials by the Obama administration and U.S. intelligence officials that the agency is spying on Americans.
Since Snowden’s disclosures began in June, intelligence officials have attempted to assure members of Congress and the public that the programs are under strict oversight and access to the information is limited to a select number of individuals.
By accessing the metadata embedded in the document, the Guardian was able to determine that the reported document was last updated in June 2012.
President Obama told late night talk show host Jay Leno on Wednesday that the controversial spy programs were not a “domestic surveillance program,” a sentiment NSA Director Gen. Keith Alexander repeated during a panel on Thursday.
“This isn’t a domestic spying program. It’s a tool to find terrorists. I think the country is well serviced by courts and congress,” said Alexander.